BART wants to ban this street dance team. Here is their response.


As the doors of a crowded BART train bound for Oakland close at the Embarcadero station, Velo plays on a portable speaker. Foggy lo-fi hip-hop fills the car like fog. The passengers instinctively back away and look away.

“Don’t try too hard do not to look at us,” says Carvel “Velo” Crane, wearing a primary-color patchwork hoodie. He smiles to show off a set of gold teeth. “We can make you smile. Look at us!”

It’s hard enough to miss him, even before he starts dancing (check the photos in the slideshow above). Velo is a founding member of BA, aka Best Alive, aka those dancers you’ve seen swinging from the ceilings of BART trains, holding ballet pointe shoes in Nikes, and contorting themselves into poses that would make a yoga instructor drop a ” namaste” scary. “

Velo warns Sunday afternoon runners against sudden movements and reassures the crowd that they are watching the professionals. It sounds like a line, but it’s true – many of the approximately 20-member team dance full-time, star in music videos and work as choreographers.

“I’ve never had a nine to five, ever,” says Velo. “I pay for my apartment dancing; I bought my car dancing. You build a resume, you get booked, you learn to network.” This commotion earned the group a spot in an exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, showcasing a dance style born in the Bay Area called “turfing.”

Hard work shows once you see it moving. Velo hurls itself off the walls of the train like a bouncing ball, swinging from the ceiling and wrapping around the posts. He seems totally in control, but still almost punches a woman in the face.

Best Alive performs on various BART platforms and trains.

Alexander Nicholson

“Excuse my brother, he thinks he’s Spiderman,” says Christopher Grant Davis Jr., aka Carmu, another BA member wearing a white tank top that shows off his massive triceps.

Velo slides into a corner and Carmu hits the floor, turning over into a handstand which he holds for the duration of a full hazy hip-hop verse, doing upside-down push-ups while spinning his legs like blades of helicopter. He rolls over to his feet, then twists his arms together and begins “breaking bones”.

This part is not easy to watch. Rotator cuffs be damned, both shoulder sockets reverse up. Her fingers point to the ceiling, then curl together in an eagle arm yoga pose. It’s part circus show, part hyphy bluster.

Next up is Asim Solon Smith Jr., a nervous 21-year-old who goes by the nickname Zimmy and looks to be carded for decades to come. He’s just been hospitalized for two bad kidneys, but that doesn’t stop him from walking in the car. “Being on tiptoe is my favorite move,” he says. It’s no coincidence that her shoes are the most striking part of her look, white Nikes with hand painted roses and broken hearts.

A fourth dancer wearing a skintight JR Smith singlet takes over. Isaiah Baluyot isn’t a member of BA, just an old pal from LA who just got off a dance tour with Justin Bieber. He moves with the tension of the rubber band, striking frozen poses that contrast with BA’s silkier vibes.

In the immortal words of Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest, styles upon styles upon styles is what they have.

The foundation of turfing can be traced back to the boogaloo movement in Oakland in the 60s, returned to prominence in the early 2000s and spread around the world when the Jabbawockeez featured it on America’s Best Dance Crew in 2008 (and won). Turfing is hard to describe, but builds from old-school pop lock with slow-motion swiping and cool kinetic hands. BA incorporates turfing fundamentals, however, they do not consider themselves traditional turfers, calling themselves “all style” dancers.

Best Alive performs on various BART platforms and trains.

Best Alive performs on various BART platforms and trains.

Alexander Nicholson

“It’s better to know different genres,” says Zimmy. “You don’t just want to learn turfing and bone breaking, you want to learn waving, popping, break dancing, ballet.”

“My style is all about body control and waves, but a lot of storytelling. You tell a story from the song,” Velo says, spreading his arms out in a shooting pose. “Or, what you do. If I want to play basketball, I’ll do a move like this,” his legs scissor apart and his arms squirm in a dribble.

While most runners seem to enjoy BA shows and donate a buck (“best nation is a giveaway”) or at least a smile, not everyone is a fan of their particular style of storytelling. A current proposal from the city threatens to amend or even imprison BART artists, but the team ignores it.

“It’s definitely not the first time they’ve tried to shut it down,” Carmu says. “It happens pretty much every year, but this is the first time it’s made the news.”

Granted, the woman Velo nearly kicked might call them invasive, but the group tries hard not to disrupt people’s rides. Over time, they refined their number to be less confrontational, partly on the advice of a BART manager who saw their number and invited them to perform at an official SFMTA event. at the New Parish.

Best Alive performs on various BART platforms and trains.

Best Alive performs on various BART platforms and trains.

Alexander Nicholson

“She said, ‘I know you’re not supposed to dance on BART, but your talent is amazing,'” Velo said. “‘You should be a little more professional, try not to have a lot of music with swear words.’ I tried that shit, and it started to work!”

The less aggressive approach pays off. Every weekend, groups of three make the long drive between West Oakland and Embarcadero for a few hours, sometimes bringing in $50 an hour each. It is both a source of income and the equivalent of an after-school program.

“We all come from places where there is nothing for us,” says Velo. “Either you come here, stay out of trouble and dance, or end up somewhere else. We don’t have the resources that everyone else has.”

Whether it’s considered a side hustle, a way to get out of trouble, or a contemporary art form, the undeniable fact is that guys love to dance. Even between train rides, they can’t sit still, practicing gliding motions and twisting their joints at terrifying angles. There was no purse on the floor and they didn’t ask anyone for money, it was just like two amazingly acrobatic friends having fun.

The train slowly enters the Embarcadero station and the dancers are ready and waiting. Carmu dives into a backbend just yards from the doors, and as they open, Zimmy sprints towards him and leaps into a 360 front flip. It sticks up the landing, sending echoes all over the platform.

The shocked crowd exits the car and BA heads inside, ready to start another show that will be hard not to watch.

Dan Gentile is an SFGATE digital editor. Email: [email protected] | Twitter:@dannosphere

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